2013 Honda CRF250L First Ride

September 12, 2012
Justin Dawes
Justin Dawes
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Raised on two wheels in the deserts of Nevada, the newest addition to the MotoUSA crew has been part of the industry for well over 15 years.Equal parts writer, photographer, and rider, "JDawg" is a jack of all trades and even a master of some.

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Watch as we ride the 2013 Honda CRF250L around the Santa Barbara area in the 2013 Honda CRF250L First Ride Video.

Honda has been on a value-for-dollar kick as of late, introducing several models such as the NC700X and CBR250R that give plenty of bang per buck. For 2013 Big Red continues the trend with the Honda CRF250L. With the success of the two aforementioned models, Honda doesn’t expect any less from the 250L. Priced much lower than the competition, its $4499 price tag is $600 less than the Kawasaki KLX250S and over $2000 less than the Yamaha WR250R. That’s pretty significant in a category where price is a big box to check when shopping. The question is – does slashing price mean slashing performance?

The 2013 CRF250L is an all-new machine from front to back, except for one part – the engine. The very same powerplant that propels Honda’s small-bore sportbike, the CBR250R, also resides inside the CRF’s steel double cradle frame. Internally some changes were made to beef up the CRF’s motor for the rigors of off-road use and abuse. Transmission gears were widened (physically not ratio) and a judder spring was added to the clutch to absorb the shock put on the drivetrain during dirt duty. The CBR’s 38mm throttle body was swapped out for a 36mm unit that breathes through a larger airbox. Additionally the ECU settings and exhaust pipe diameter and length were tuned to give the CRF more mid-range grunt, putting the power where it’s more appropriate for a dual-sport machine. Fuel economy is estimated at an almost-unbelievable 73 mpg. That may be possible when commuting, but I’m sure the numbers will be a little less rosy when being properly flogged.

2013 Honda CRF250L
2013 Honda CRF250L
Sharing a powerplant with the Honda CBR250R and non-adjustable suspension allowed Honda to keep the price of the 2013 CRF250L low at just $4499.

The CRF250L’s frame is suspended by a 43mm upside down fork that offers 9.8 inches of travel in the front, and a Pro-Link rear end strokes through 9.4 inches. If you’re looking for adjustability, rear shock preload is all you get. The Honda press crew swore that we would be more than pleased with the suspension action despite the lack of damping clickers.

Honda knows just as well as anyone that looks do influence buying decisions, so the designers gave the 250L plastic fitting its CRF moniker. Every bit of styling is far above the price point, and the fit and finish is what you would expect from Honda. From the angular headlight to the multifunction speedo unit and faux numberplates, the 2013 Honda CRF250L is a looker.

Hopping on the CRF250F finds an easy reach to terra-firma thanks to a 34.7-inch seat height. Even shorter riders shouldn’t have too difficult of a time getting one or both feet flat on the dirt or pavement once the suspension settles into its true ride height. If you weigh more than 175 pounds be prepared to add a few turns on the preload. The suspension feels super squishy when sitting on the lot, and more than a couple of the journalists in our riding group initially questioned the off-road capabilty of the CRF. The rider’s area is compact and riders over 6 feet may want to source a taller seat. Another quick assessment before hitting the road was that the bars feel narrow, but I decided to hold off judgment until we hit the road.

Twisting the throttle pushes the CRF forward with little fanfare. The engine character can be best described as user-friendly, especially for less experienced or less spirited riders. Whack the throttle to the stop and the revs will build steadily to the redline, but to be honest I expected a little more punch in the mid-range. It’s a sewing machine, but give me an hour on anything (even a sewing machine) and I’ll find a way to go fast. Keeping revs up and shifting often got the CRF moving pretty

2013 Honda CRF250L
2013 Honda CRF250L
The 2013 Honda CRF250L handles on the street far beyond expectations with light handling and excellent grip.

damn good and put a smile on my face. If I’ve said it once I’ve said it a hundred times – riding a slow bike fast is always more fun than riding a fast bike slow.

Shifting is solid and precise, but the spacing between second and third gears could be tighter as you find yourself having to shifting often between the two. Clutch effort is light and the feel is positive. The 256mm front disc and twin-piston caliper slow the bike with decent power, but experienced riders will want more bite and power. The rear brake is forgiving and easy to modulate on the street and dirt.

On the road the CRF is beyond fun. Find yourself a tight twisty road and you will be giving bigger, faster bikes fits. The pavement handling is nothing short of stellar. The suspension is sorted and controlled no matter if the blacktop is billiard table smooth or in need of serious repair. Turn in is light and the CRF is composed when leaned over to truly silly angles. Hang off of it, push it down into the corners – whatever style you choose the Honda handles better than it should. The grip and level of feedback from the tires is sure-footed and impressive and will always be up for all sorts of tomfoolery if the rider is so inclined.

In the dirt, the CRF is almost as much fun as on the street. The suspension does a much better job than expected, eating up rocks and chop with a controlled smoothness. Big hits such as whoops or jumps start to tax the non-adjustable forks quicker than the rear, and the rebound damping suffers when the fork returns form being pushed to the bottom of its stroke. I would also prefer wider bars in the dirt for a little more leverage when things get dicey. For 95% of the riders that will be considering this bike, they will have no

2013 Honda CRF250L
In the dirt the 2013 Honda CRF250L is just as capable as it is on the street. The smooth power delivery is a positive characteristic for beginner and novice riders.

complaints in the dirt. I rode the CRF well beyond its intended usage and not once did it get out of shape to the point I was concerned for my safety. It will take the abuse and ask for more, but it does let you know you are beating on it. Spoon on more aggressive dual sport tires and this little bike will take you places. The electric-smooth power is a new rider’s best friend in the dirt, and as they progress with their skills the CRF will still not disappoint. Momentum and revs get the little Honda hustling on fireroads and single track.

After a day of beating the 2013 CRF250L on the street and dirt, it became apparent that Honda has yet again scored big with a small package and small pricetag. It’s impressive the amount of bike you get for $4499, and I can see the CRF250L putting a serious dent in its competitors’ sales numbers. We can’t wait to put it up head-to-head with those same bikes very soon. Stay tuned.

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